"All of this is magic against death / all of this ends with to be continued," - Frank Stanford. At once an epic poem narrated by a preternaturally streetwise twelve-year-old boy who hops a Freedom bus en route to a civil rights rally in the rural south, while at the same time a surreal incantatory feast of lyric bravado. It reads, as critic Benjamin Kunkel said, as if "Huckleberry Finn had been written by Andre Breton."
Ben Lerner—poet, novelist, essayist, teacher, and native Topekan—has garnered more accolades in his 37 years than most writers do over a lifetime. It would be annoying if he just wasn't so good. A lucid thinker, he is able to navigate complex sociopolitical ideas with enviable ease, conveying his insights with humility, humor, and artful empathy. This slender volume of literary criticism can be read in a pleasant afternoon and contemplated for days. Its title is introduction enough as to its content. Throughout, Lerner consistently passes the litmus test for "good writing": no dull sentences or facile ideas. Lovers, and haters, of poetry, take note.